Folks, after a semi-bad winter and a pretty good Spring, we've finally made it to the National Championship game. In a season filled with parity, we've got two blueblood members of The Commission in the title game, as North Carolina squares up against Maryland. We'll give you how each team got here and some players and matchups to watch as well in this preview! At the very bottom is our College Crosse TV Pregame show with some shots of the Linc. We'll also have plenty of Tailgate Vision on Periscope as well.
Raise your hand if you thought North Carolina would make it to the Final Four this year.
(In a room full of people, only Liquid_Smoke raises his hand)
Yeah, not a lot of people expected Carolina to go far, especially when you lose guys like Joey Sankey, Jimmy Bitter, and Chad Tutton. UNC was picked to finish last in the ACC and they were probably a bubble team in the NCAA Tournament. But after just getting into the NCAA Tournament, the Heels got hot and are playing on Memorial Day. #WhatATimeToBeAlive.
A 10-9 win over Marquette, followed by dominant wins over Notre Dame and Loyola, and the Tar Heels are hoping to erase 1991 off their minds like they erased 1993 last weekend against the Fighting Irish. UNC is playing their best lacrosse of the season at the right time. But they face a tough Maryland team that they lost to by three goals back in late March.
Players To Watch
1. Chris Cloutier - Attack (9 goals, 0 assists vs. Loyola)
How will a guy that had nine goals on Saturday not be on this list? Pretty easy choice here. As the #2 attackman, Cloutier will probably match up against Tim Muller once again like he was in their first meeting. The sophomore from Kitchener, Ontario only had a goal and an assist in that game.
2. Steve Pontrello - Attack (2 goals, 3 assists vs. Loyola)
The quarterback of this offense hopes to be a big catalyst for the Tar Heels later this afternoon. The senior from Marlton, New Jersey (s/o to South Jersey and St. Augustine Prep!) leads the team with 47 goals and with 67 points on the season. Matched up against Matt Dunn, a USILA Second Team All-American, Pontrello had a team-high three points (1 goal, 2 assists) in the loss to the Terps back in March.
3. Austin Pifani - Defense (2 caused turnovers, 3 ground balls vs. Loyola)
UNC's top defenseman and Ryan Macri helped contain Zach Herreweyers and Pat Spencer for most of the game on Saturday, as the two only combined for four goals and five assists (all the assists from Spencer). Many of those points came later in the game, when the Heels built an unbelievable lead before halftime. Pifani will face his childhood friend Matt Rambo once again, but this time, a National Championship is on the line.
4. Stephen Kelly - FOGO (19-35 faceoffs, 9 ground balls vs. Loyola)
Kelly had a great day for UNC when they streamrolled the Greyhounds in the first half. "Bones" gets another shot at Austin Henningsen and Will Bonaparte today, as the junior went 13-of-23 at draws in the first Maryland game. How will Kelly play and will he be stymied by Maryland's wingers will be a huge factor today.
5. Brian Balkam - Goalie (7 saves, .350 SV% vs. Loyola)
Balkam is playing his best lacrosse so far this NCAA Tournament, and it looks like he won't be stopping anytime soon. The sophomore made seven saves against the Terps in their first meeting. He needs to have a solid game in order for UNC to win.
They're back!! The Terps are on the hunt and on the cusp of their first title since 1975. They just escaped Brown thanks to Colin Heacock's third goal of the game from Matt Rambo. Will it be Terp City in Philly today?
Players To Watch
1. Matt Rambo - Attack (1 goal, 5 assists vs. Brown)
The local boy (and my friend from La Salle!) is back for his second consecutive championship game. It'll be tough to top his performance in the semifinals against Brown, but he needs to have a good game in order for Maryland to win.
2. Dylan Maltz - Attack (3 goals, 0 assists vs. Brown)
Maltz has been hot as of late. The former Syracuse commit has had a hat-trick in the past two games, and has become a bigger threat at attack. Zach Powers was on Maltz for most of the first meeting, when he scored only one goal. But the Heels defense has changed a lot since then.
3. Isaiah Davis-Allen - Midfield (1 goal, 6 ground balls, 1 caused turnover vs. Brown)
The top short-stick in the nation will be vital in a couple departments for the Terps today. I think he'll be needed the most at faceoffs on the wing. Alongside Greg Danseglio, IDA will need to box out defenseman and probable matchup Evan Connell once again on one of the wings. In their previous meeting, he matched up against senior Patrick Kelly while the Terp defense poled Michael Tagliaferri.
4. Pat Young (0 goals, 1 assist vs. Brown), Tim Rotanz (2 goals, 0 assists vs. Brown), and Lucas Gradinger - Midfield (Pointless vs. Brown)
Maryland's second midfield unit, also known as their "Gold Unit" will be vital for the Terps today. We've talked a lot about their depth at the midfield and the Gold Unit demonstrated what they can do in the tournament this year, but they need another productive day to beat the Heels.
Last week, it was Pat Young that took over with four goals, and Tim Rotanz starred on Saturday with two goals of his own. Who will be the one/ones to step up today? They will certainly need to play better than they did the first time they played UNC earlier in the year. In their first meeting, UNC held the second midfield to no points. If that happens again, UNC could be in it at the end.
5. Austin Henningsen (7-23 faceoffs, 3 ground balls vs. Brown) and Will Bonaparte - FOGO (5-9, 1 ground ball vs. Brown)
For the second straight game, Maryland's FOGOs got worked. Last week, it was Ben Williams who dominated the faceoff X for Syracuse. And it was Will Gural's turn on Saturday, as he got the best of Henningsen, but nearly split the draws with Bonaparte. As mentioned earlier, the two teams nearly split faceoffs back in March, with Maryland going 10-of-23 on draws. Wingers will be big again today.
Matchups To Watch:
1. Chris Cloutier vs. Tim Muller
How will Cloutier respond after his incredible nine goal outburst? .
2. Matt Rambo vs. Austin Pifani
It'd be nice to see these two friends go at it, since they're the best at their position for both teams. But in the last game, Rambo was matched up against freshman Jack Halpert for most of the game. Pifani was assigned Connor Kelly, who lit up the box score with three goals and three assists in that game. We'll see this matchup occasionally, but it's also going to be interesting how these two local kids perform overall in front of their hometown fans.
3. The Game And Overall Atmosphere vs. Weather
Earlier in the week, it looked like the weather would be bad at game time, with rain and possible thunderstorms scheduled around the afternoon. But the latest reports have the rain not coming down at all. Cloudy for the entire day with highs in the lower 80s, so a good day to go out and tailgate and also watch a National Championship game!
If UNC played my Orange for a third time, I don't know how I'd feel about that. As Joe Breschi said after practice on Friday when asked about not losing their winning momentum, "thank god we're not playing Syracuse." UNC is en fuego right now, and hopes to stay en fuego for one more game. But I think Maryland's defense is a little too much for UNC to handle. Brown's system worked against the Terps, but they fell just short of winning that game. I think you'll see a lot of scoring from the first midfield for Maryland as well. I'm going to go with Maryland 12, North Carolina 10.
College Crosse TV - Monday Pregame Show.
Should be a great game!